When watching any game in which SLUC Nancy big man Randal Falker plays, basketball fans are guaranteed to see hustle.
Despite being an undersized center among giants in the paint, at just 2.01 meters tall, Falker has been known as a rebounding ace throughout his career, and now in his seventh professional season, as one of the best of the best on the offensive boards. But for Nancy this season, Falker has been even more than that.
As the team tries to reach its second Eurocup eighthfinals berth, and first since the 2006-07 season, Falker has been a true cornerstone of Nancy's success. He is leading his team during this Eurocup campaign in rebounds (8.1), blocks (1.7), performance index rating (14.3) and minutes played minutes (29:32), while also dishing the second-most assists (35) and scoring the second-highest number of points (132).
Nancy is in a super-tough Last 32 Group N that also features the last two Eurocup champions, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Valencia Basket, and to survive will need Falker to keep producing. The veteran center currently ranks third in rebounds in the entire Eurocup, and only one player in the competition has accumulated more blocks this season than his 24.
Most of those numbers come as no surprise, however, as Falker has battled and hustled his entire career. What does come as a surprise is learning he has a hobby like few other basketball players in the world. He is no doubt one of the biggest men you will ever see flying down the trails and doing serious tricks on hi-tech mountain bikes.
"I would not call the tricks serious," Falker laughs. "I’ve seen people jump over roads, off of cliffs, and land on the other side. I've seen incredible things that I dare not repeat. There is part of me that is curious about it. But what I do, I'm a rider. I like to jump off stuff, but I like to stay safe and keep it simple."
He builds the bikes he owns, upgrades them to go faster, and to be safer, adding suspension to absorb a lot of landings.
It's a love and attraction that started a long time ago, after his dad gave him his first bike.
"My dad was an avid racer when he was growing up, and for a lot of people, your parents' hobby is like your own hobby," Falker explains. "Everything I did was dealing with bikes and riding."
Like father, like son. Randal’s passion was fed when he won bike races as a kid.
"I was extremely fast," he says. "Eventually, I got too big for a BMX bike, and riding on the road kind of got boring, but doing a mountain bike trail was a rush of all rushes. There was nothing like it. You're blazing on a trail, you got trees on both sides. You don't know what’s coming up next. It's the thrill of the unknown, mixed with speed."
He mostly rides during summers. The rest of the year is reserved for basketball, the sport that creates a rush of its own for Falker, one that obviously differs from the kind he gets hurtling down mountains on a bike. But Falker says that there are similarities. Playing basketball against taller centers all the time is like riding against someone who faster, lighter and stronger.
"You have to dig deep, deep, so deep inside you, it hurts and is difficult, but you need to keep up," he says. "And it is something like that in basketball. I've always been smaller than most people that I play against. It is a feeling that 'You are not getting the best of me. You are not going to beat me no matter what I have to do.' I get a kind of rush when you think you might be overwhelmed but still need to perform admirably."